Written By: Francesca Claverie, Native Plant Materials Manager
There are so many types of bats in the world that it’s overwhelming. In fact, out of the entire diversity of mammals on the planet a quarter of them are bat species. There are almost 30 species of bats in Arizona and all of them eat insects except for two nectar feeders, Choeronycteris mexicana (Mexican long-tongued bat) and Leptonycteris yerbabuenae, (lesser long nosed bat). This means nectar feeding bats are little nighttime plant pollinators that follow the blooming cycles of mostly succulent blooms like agave and cacti from Mexico in the winter, to the very southern tips of the U.S. in the summer. The Sky Islands of the Madrean Archipelago, here in southern Arizona, are considered important areas in need of conservation to support pollinator populations, specifically the lesser long nosed bat. This bat was recently taken off the Endangered Species list even though its nectar source is stressed. Agave is an important bat food source in this grassland region that faces continued threats such as climate change, land development, and wild harvest of agaves for Bacanora production.
Borderlands Restoration Network (BRN) is working on many aspects of the agave threats through partnerships with multiple organizations and volunteers. BRN’s first endeavor is with the National Phenology Network and their “Flowers for Bats” campaign. This campaign tackles the climate change stressor to agaves by recruiting volunteers to track the flowering cycle of the native agaves in our region. Here in Santa Cruz County the important agave species for bat nectar are Agave parryi and Agave palmeri.
As the global temperatures change so do plants and many adapt by flowering earlier. Scientists are worried that bat migration schedules won’t be able to keep up with the change, meaning thousands of migrating bats will be going hungry as they hit the grasslands and only find agaves that have already flowered and are already starting to seed. Ways that you can help are by joining the monitoring effort as a volunteer tracking agave flowering times, and by keeping your hummingbird feeders out at night to feed the bats as well as the birds.
BRN’s biggest agave collaboration is with Bat Conservation International (BCI) and the #agavesforbats campaign which is supporting on the ground restoration of regionally sourced agaves from seeds and pups in the southwest U.S. and northwestern Mexico. These restoration efforts are meant to balance out the destruction of agaves for industrial and residential land use in the U.S. and the wild harvest of agaves for Bacanora (the regional mescal produced from agaves in Sonora), which is sold within Sonora as well as all over the United States and is increased by U.S. demand for this product.
The BR Native Plant Materials Program (NPM) is collecting seed and propagating thousands of agaves for restoration. The NPM includes the Seed Lab, a seed storage and processing facility, and the Native Plant Nursery, a plant propagation facility. The NPM is staffed by Allegra Mount, Francesca Claverie, Perin McNelis, Travis Gerckens, Aishah Lurry, and Andrea Fleder, all residents of Patagonia. The nursery is ideal for producing the agaves for this project due to their proven track record of previous agave production, and ability to track and curate plant material accessions and propagation records. The NPM is also organizing outreach efforts in collaboration with BCI in Sonora, Mexico by partnering with Colectivo Sonora Silvestre, a group of students and alumni from the University of Sonora in Hermosillo to organize two workshops this fall and winter. One will be aimed at communicating the threats and issues of agave and bat restoration in the U.S. and Sonora and the other workshop will start a dialogue with Bacanora producers and agave growers in Sonora to promote agave and bat conservation.
Through Borderlands Restoration Network’s partnerships and collaboration there is hope to make a difference in the long-term availability of agaves on the landscape to support the bats as well as all their other important ecological functions. If you wish to support these efforts you can donate money to Bat Conservation International’s Agaves For Bats campaign and to Borderlands Restoration Network, volunteer your time planting agaves and helping at our NPM volunteer days, or plant many native agaves in your yard and keep your hummingbird feeders full during bat migration. To learn more about any aspects of this work you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.